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Country Profile

Area: 124,320 sq km (including Dahlak archipelago)
Population: 5.6 million (2009 est)
Capital City: Asmara
People: Tigrinya 50%, Tigre 35%, Afar 4%, Saho 3%, Kunama 3%
Main language(s): Tigrinya, Tigre, Arabic and English
Religion(s): 50% Christian (Coptic, Catholic and Protestant), 50% Muslim
Currency: Nakfa (replaced the Ethiopian Birr in 1997) fixed exchange rate 15 to 1US$ ( 2009)
President: Isaias Afwerki
Foreign Minister: Mr Osman Saleh
Membership of international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) , Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US $2.117 billion (World Bank, 2010)
GDP per capita: US$700 (CIA, 2010 est)
Real GDP Growth: 2.2% (World Bank, 2010 est)
Exchange Rate: Nfa:US$ = 15 (fixed)
Major Industries: Food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles
Major trading partners: Exports - India 25.3%, Italy 20.7%, Sudan 14.1%, China 12.9%, France 5.5%, Saudi Arabia 5.4% (2008).
Imports: Saudi Arabia 20.7%, India 13.6%, Italy 12.6%, China 9.9%, US 5.1%, Germany 4.6% (2008) (CIA)

Eritrea’s economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, which employs 70-80% of the population. Eritrea’s industrial sector accounts for 23% of GDP and employs 10% of the workforce, but has declined since the halting of trade with Ethiopia since 1998. The private sector has also shrunk dramatically in recent years. Likewise, the ports at Massawa and Assab were major economic assets while they served Ethiopia’s import and export needs, but Ethiopian transit trade ceased in 1998. Eritrea’s economic prospects were severely affected by the war and continued military preparedness has resulted in acute shortages of manpower and foreign exchange. Economic growth is estimated at 15.5% (EIU, 2009). Inflation is estimated at 2.2% (EIU, 2011). Contributions from the diaspora help to keep the economy afloat but these are thought to be diminishing. Efforts are underway to develop the tourist industry around Massawa.

IMF Country Reports: Eritrea (

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Eritrea came into existence as an Italian colony in 1890. Italy used Eritrea as a jumping-off point for its conquest of Ethiopia in 1936. In 1941 British-led forces drove out the Italians and Eritrea was placed under British Military Administration. This lasted until 1950 when the UN General Assembly agreed that Eritrea should be federated with Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown. The federation was abolished in 1962 and Eritrea was absorbed into Ethiopia.

The first Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) formed in 1961. A second, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), headed by Isaias Afwerki, developed in the 1970s, boosted by the revolution in Ethiopia. Both were committed to independence for Eritrea. In the early 1980s the EPLF defeated the ELF and drove it into Sudan, where it fragmented. The EPLF went on to form a strategic alliance with an insurgent group in Northern Ethiopia, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). They waged a long and eventually successful guerrilla war against the Mengistu government. In May 1991, the EPLF took control of Eritrea as their TPLF allies (now the EPRDF) entered Addis Ababa. A UN supervised referendum was held in April 1993 in which over 99% voted in favour of independence, on a turnout of over 90%. Ethiopia recognised Eritrea on 2 May 1993. The UK recognised Eritrea on 14 May 1993.

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A dispute over the ill-defined border with Ethiopia flared into military conflict in May 1998. There were an estimated 100,000 casualties. Hostilities concluded with the signing of the Algiers Peace Agreement of December 2000. This established the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) to delimit and demarcate the border and established a 25km Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) between the 2 countries. A UN peacekeeping force (UNMEE) was deployed along the TSZ in 2001. Following restrictions placed on UNMEE activities and staff by the Eritrean Government the UN Security Council formally terminated UNMEE’s mandate in July 2008.

The EEBC announced its decision on the border on 13 April 2002. Demarcation was due to follow in 2003. However, when it became clear that the town of Badme (where the hostilities started) had been awarded to Eritrea, Ethiopia challenged the EEBC's conclusions. In 2004 Ethiopia announced its acceptance "in principle" of the EEBC ruling. In 2007 Ethiopia then stated its acceptance of the EEBC’s decision “without precondition” but has said relations need to be normalised between the two sides before the decision should be implemented. The international community continues its efforts to keep the peace process on track by underlining that the EEBC decision is final and binding and by urging both governments to engage in political dialogue. Unable to physically demarcate the border on the ground the EEBC instead issued a ‘virtual demarcation’ showing where the boundary posts should be placed.

UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (

Another border dispute erupted in 2008 with Djibouti. A UN Security Council Resolution in January 2008 made a number of demands of the two sides in order that steps could be taken to resolve the dispute. In June 2010 Eritrea and Djibouti signed a Qatari mediated agreement and Eritrean troops were withdrawn from the contested areas.. To date no progress has been made on a number of issues to finally resolve the dispute.

In December 2009 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1907. This imposed sanctions on Eritrea, in the form of an arms embargo, for failure to comply with previous Security Council resolutions. These related to two issues: the Djibouti border dispute and the situation in Somalia. On Somalia, Eritrea was found by the Security Council to have provided support to armed opposition groups, putting Eritrea in breach of a UN arms embargo on Somalia. In December 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2023 which further extended sanctions on Eritrea following criticism of Eritrea’s illicit activities by the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group.


Diplomatic Representation

UK representation in Eritrea: Ambassador Sandra Tyler-Haywood (Amanda Tanfield from May 2012)
Eritrean representation in the UK: Ambassador Tesfamicael Gerahtu Ogbaghiorghi


There have been few official visits in recent years. The last were:


-- April 2009: Andrew Mitchell MP & Delegation, Shadow Secretary for International Development, visited Eritrea
-- January 2004: Chris Mullin, former Minister for Africa, visited Eritrea.


-- February 2012: Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh visited London
-- June 2011: Eritrean Minister for Agriculture Arefaine Berhe
-- January 20011: Eritrean Minister for Education Semere Russom
-- December 2003: Eritrean Foreign Minister, Ali Said Abdella, visited London

Cultural Relations

The British Council was the focal point for cultural relations between Britain and Eritrea but closed its operation in Asmara in December 2011.

British Council, Eritrea (


For recent statements of UK government policy towards Eritrea visit the Hansard website ( and enter Eritrea in the search engine.

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Eritrea lies on the West Coast of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Sudan to the west, Djibouti to the east and Ethiopia to the south.

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Trade and Investment

From January to November 2011, UK exports of goods to Eritrea totalled £2.27 million and UK imports of goods totalled £169,282.


Eritrea is a very poor country, ranking at 165 out of 182 on the UN human development index. Life expectancy is 59 years. HIV prevalence remains below 2%. The government has put substantial effort into improving health, education and clean water and hygiene provision, but many challenges still remain and the country’s relative international isolation has made the situation harder. Water shortage is a major difficulty; Eritrea has endured consecutive years of drought, leading to food insecurity and chronic malnutrition in the vulnerable groups such as the elderly and children.

DFID has a small programme to address humanitarian needs, which is implemented through the UN. Funding for 2011-12 amounted to £5m to fund a Water and Sanitation program with UNICEF.

United Nations Development Programme (

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Isaias Afwerki was elected President by the National Assembly in 1993. The EPLF renamed itself the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and has continued to run the country. They embarked upon a four-year transitional period in preparation for national elections but political development was arrested by the renewal of conflict with Ethiopia. A draft constitution was ratified by the National Assembly in 1997, but never implemented. There is no provision for alternative political parties.

In 2001 criticism of the leadership by a number of senior government figures led to the arrest of 11 Parliamentarians who are still being detained without trial. At the same time the fledgling private press was closed down and nine journalists and numerous students detained. National elections scheduled for 2001 but have been delayed indefinitely. Local elections were held in 2003 (village level) and 2004 (regional level).

BBC News Country Profile: Eritrea (
UN Information Service - IRIN (

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The human rights situation in Eritrea is very poor. Arbitrary detention without charge is common. Freedom of expression is severely restricted and political critics and journalists have been held for long periods. National elections have never been held and alternative political parties are not permitted. Religious freedom is also restricted: although Eritrea is a secular state only the four major established religions (Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Catholic and Lutherans) are able to meet freely. Smaller religious groups, especially Evangelicals and Jehovah Witnesses, face restrictions on their activities and many have been arrested. All Eritreans are conscripted into national service which, although officially lasts only 18 months, is often indefinite.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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